In a series of closely contested votes at the Music City Center in Nashville, the Executive Committee (EC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) declined to consider a motion related to sexual abuse, ousted a Conservative Baptist Network leader from an EC officer position and set up a potential SBC floor vote over the EC’s vice chairman Tom Tucker, who was elected for a second year as vice chair even though he was not nominated for a customary term by the convention’s Committee on Nominations.
Jared Wellman of Texas moved that the EC amend its agenda to consider expanding a third-party investigation of how the EC has handled sexual abuse claims. The EC announced June 11 it had secured the investigation firm Guidepost Solutions for an independent review of its handling of abuse issues, but Wellman suggested that move didn’t go far enough.
The motion Wellman, a Texas pastor, hoped to present – which he distributed to EC members – called for the SBC president to “appoint a Task Force independent of the Executive Committee” to “receive the full report from Guidepost Solutions prior to the Executive Committee and report to the Convention the full findings of the investigation.”
Declining to consider the motion for an expanded investigation would constitute failure to “exercise the accountability and transparency and integrity that we said we are searching” for, Wellman said during debate.
EC secretary Joe Knott of North Carolina countered that while “no one in the Southern Baptist Convention is in any way in favor of any sort of child abuse,” it would be unwise and could violate Baptist polity to give “essentially unlimited power” to “a third-party professional investigatory organization that does this for profit.” He added that Wellman’s proposal probably would not help fight sexual abuse.
“Most of our churches are 100 [to] 150 people,” said Knott, an attorney. “The children’s Sunday Schools are run by the mothers of children and their grandmothers. There’s no safer place on earth than most Southern Baptist churches for children.”
In a vote by raised hands, the EC failed to reach the two-thirds majority required to amend its agenda and consider Wellman’s motion. Some abuse victim advocates decried the vote on social media.
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin, who was in attendance as an observer, tweeted: “It is hard to imagine under any circumstances that a body of believers in the Lord Jesus would vote to limit in any way an investigation to find the truth when there are serious allegations related to sexual abuse.”
Tennessee pastor Grant Gaines, who has announced plans to make a motion on the SBC floor similar to Wellman’s, tweeted: “There is absolutely no reason the Executive Committee should have shut this down.”
When the EC came to officer elections, Rolland Slade, the committee’s first Black chairman, was reelected without opposition to a second one-year term. The EC then reelected on a standing vote vice chairman Tucker, an evangelist and pastor from South Carolina, over Oklahoma physician Micah Nix. Tucker’s election came despite the fact the SBC Committee on Nominations declined to nominate him for a second term, as is customary for SBC entity trustees.
Following the vote, EC member Mark Ballard of Vermont said, “This committee needs to give a united front that we’re standing behind all our officers,” adding that when the Committee on Nominations presents its report June 16 to the convention, “I actually would like you to go to a microphone and stand behind Tom Tucker.”
Tucker and Ballard, who is leaving the EC after serving two terms, are members of the Conservative Baptist Network’s steering council.
For Tucker to serve a second EC term and a second year as vice chairman, SBC messengers would have to amend the Committee on Nominations report when it is presented.
One EC officer not reelected was Rod Martin, chairman of the EC’s Convention Events and Strategic Planning Committee. Slade declined to nominate Martin for a second term, instead nominating Miami pastor Erik Cummings. Martin, whose conduct on social media has drawn criticism from some Southern Baptists as inappropriate for the leadership position, was nominated by Texas pastor Mike Lawson.
On two separate standing votes, neither Martin, a Florida entrepreneur and CBN steering council member, nor Cummings received the required 40 votes to be elected.
Cummings, a former officer of the SBC’s National African American Fellowship and the current president of the Florida Baptist State Convention, received 35 votes to Martin’s 28 in the first vote. After Cummings got 39 votes in the second election, Martin – who again received 28 – withdrew his name from nomination and urged EC members to vote for Cummings, who was elected by acclamation.
Four other EC officers were elected without opposition: Monte Shinkle of Missouri as secretary; Rob Showers of Virginia as chairman of the Committee on Convention Missions and Ministry; Robyn Hari of Tennessee as chairman of the Committee on Convention Finances and Stewardship Development; and Jim Gregory of Idaho as chairman of the Committee on Southern Baptist Relations.
Before the votes, Ballard moved that all officer elections occur by secret ballot, but the motion was defeated.
Wellman told Baptist Press, “I lament that we as a body can spend so much time deliberating officer elections, but that the body wouldn’t even entertain a motion to speak into the parameters of the third-party investigation. It does not display the ‘transparency, integrity, excellence and accountability’ we said we desired.”
EC President and CEO Ronnie Floyd urged EC members to remember debate is “good and healthy when we do this biblically.” Floyd recounted positive steps the EC has taken over the past two years, since his arrival, to counter racism and sexual abuse. He said of current SBC tensions, “Don’t take this conflict as what’s bad in the SBC family. Take it as iron sharpening iron.”
SBC President J.D. Greear, in his final report to the EC, asked Southern Baptists to pray for unity, boldness, wisdom and laborers to be sent out with the gospel. Following brief remarks, he led the EC in a time of prayer.
In other business, the EC:
- Heard a report from Showers that a task force continues to study whether SBC entities may suspend trustees from their boards for misconduct. The task force is working with the entities to achieve “a cooperative solution,” he said, and will report to the full EC by February 2022.
- Adopted the 94th EC Annual Report printed in the SBC Book of Reports.
- Recommended Jim Averett of Alabama to fill a vacancy on the SBC Credentials Committee.
- Recommended a 2021-22 SBC Comprehensive Budget of $8.6 million.
- Recognized 19 EC members who are completing their terms of service.
- Presented resolutions of appreciation to two retiring state convention executive directors: Jim Richards of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Milton Hollifield of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
The EC reported to the convention June 14 at 9:48 a.m. and again at 2:30 p.m.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is a writer in Mobile, Ala.)